The embarrassment of a nation – The Guardian

Just when the worst seems to have been seen or heard of sloppiness in the running of the nation’s affairs, Nigeria has a way of outdoing herself.

   The scale of tardiness in governance and corruption in the country culminating in her constantly high negative rating in every audit of corrupt countries globally got the most devastating advertisement when two Nigerians and an Israeli were caught with $9.3 million cash being imported illegally into South Africa the other day. The incident, leading to the seizure of the money by officials of the South African Revenue Services (SARS) has left a huge dent on the already bad image of Nigeria and Nigerians deserve full explanation of this embarrassment.

  The occupants of the Bombardier Challenger 600 aircraft carrying the money which landed at Lanseria Airport, Johannesburg, claimed they were acting on behalf of Nigerian intelligence agencies and that the money was meant for the purchase of arms to fight the insurgency in north-east Nigeria. Although sources close to the Nigerian intelligence as well as Nigerian diplomats in South Africa were obviously unaware of any such transaction, the Nigerian government immediately claimed knowledge of the mission and provided documentation to that effect. The mystery surrounding the incident, however, deepened as the National Conventional Arms Control Committee with remit to approve any import and export of weapons received no application in this respect.

  While the claims and counter claims in officialdom persist even as the nation reels under a monumental embarrassment, there are too many questions in search of answers: If the money was meant for arms purchase, why was the vendor country unaware? Why was the money not declared as required by law? Why would such amount of money be moved in this time and age of electronic/wire transfer? Was the action not in contravention of the current government’s policy of a cashless economy? What is the source of the money? Was it legally appropriated? And why would the purchase of arms for a legitimate reason be shrouded in secrecy when such transactions are supposed to be  done on government to government basis with established protocols?

   Certainly, the claim of arms purchase contradicts reason because it is a well known fact that military equipment, the sort Nigeria needs now, are too expensive and the $9.3 million being smuggled into South Africa would seem meant for a different purpose. Assuming the claim is true however, it is equally scandalous that Nigeria’s security agencies or anyone given the task could not handle with finesse such covert operation if that was what it was. It is a shame that Nigeria’s government would be involved in carrying cash in a private jet  around the world in this time and age of seamless borders and market integration. This is absolutely nothing but a thriving platform for corruption in the country.

   While the government has yet to answer raging questions, it has sadly embarked on a series of embarrassing gaffes in the form of a defence of the scandal, stuttering to convince Nigerians and the global public why it had to resort to covert arms importation and move cash in the crudest way possible. A new addition to the motley of explanations of its action is that some Western countries have blacklisted the country for alleged human rights violations in the prosecution of the war against insurgents and, therefore, unwilling to sell arms to the Nigerian government, hence the resort to the shadow market. In addition, a preposterous, even laughable, point being touted is that the scandal is being escalated because of the supposed rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa, made worse recently by the rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP which puts the former above the latter as the largest economy in Africa.

  Are the so-called western countries the only manufacturers of weapons and are there no other countries willing to sell arms to the Nigerian government in a highly competitive market? And what has rivalry got to do with a blatant violation of another country’s laws?

   The truth is that the deepening ambiguity surrounding the cash movement as well as the incredulity of Nigerians on the claims of their government are such that do the Goodluck Jonathan administration no credit. If anything, its lot has fallen further. So questions are still being asked. As the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) queried, “military equipment and weapons are not bean cakes to be purchased by the road side. There are globally-acceptable protocols for such purchases by governments, otherwise what differentiates a government from an insurgent group that is shopping for arms?” 

   Now, the suspicion that the whole episode is a monumental case of money laundering gone awry is legitimate and it is sad that Nigeria has become the object of ridicule as a result of the impropriety and impunity of those who run the affairs of the country.

   The claims by the government are unconvincing and the administration was also precipitate in its reaction, thus compounding the scandal.

   The purchase of arms is transparent and often between governments. And if history is of any value, the Yakubu Gowon administration as far back as the civil war years stopped the practice of arms purchase from the black-market. Now Nigeria’s image has been battered once again by the indiscretions of those who run the affairs of the country.

  Certainly, there is more than has been said on the cash movement scandal and Nigerians deserve to know the truth.

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